A united response

North Shore United churches come together to sponsor refugee family from Syria

The family paid smugglers to help them escape from war-torn Syria.

The perilous journey was made mostly at night – especially terrifying for their five school-aged children – and included bumpy rides in pitch-dark cars, field crossings on foot, a mountainside descent and even navigating across a river in a small boat – but they eventually crossed the border safely into Iraq.

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They landed in a UN refugee camp that, despite the bleak conditions, offered respite from the bombings and bullets that had become frequent close to their home in northeastern Syria. The decision to abandon their home and their life was difficult, but necessary.

Fortunately that family of seven will soon get a fresh start on the North Shore because of a group of local churches.

Seven North Shore united churches are combining resources to sponsor the Syrian family of seven. The family is expected to arrive in the coming months.

To protect the family’s privacy, the church coalition isn’t disclosing their names, ages or photos, but in a pamphlet entitled Syrian Refugee Appeal by the North Shore United Churches, they’ve included a story about their plight from Syria written by the mother of the family.

“We are greatly encouraged and grateful that caring people are helping us be reunited with my brother-in-law and his family in Canada,” she concluded in the message.

The churches – Mount Seymour, Lynn Valley, St. Andrew’s, North Lonsdale, Highlands, St. David’s and West Vancouver –  are responding to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the bloody civil war in Syria that’s lasted nearly five years. During that period, approximately 250,000 have been killed and more than 11 million others forced from their homes.   

Despite some calls for Canada to suspend its plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of December amid concerns over the fast-tracked timeline and security issues, especially following the deadly terror attack in Paris, Rev. Michael Caveney, lead minister at St. David’s United Church, is confident Canadians will offer the refugees a warm welcome.

“While I cannot speak for the entire group, I believe that (Saskatchewan) Premier Wall’s call to suspend fast-tracking 25,000 Syrians points out the immense complexities of settling this many people in Canada,” Caveney wrote in an email.  

“However, I am confident that Canadians are capable of opening up their hearts and their homes to people coming from such a devastated part of our planet. We are capable of sharing with others how we have been blessed to live in such a great country as Canada.”

To find a family, the churches liaised with MOSAIC, a multilingual non-profit organization that assists immigrants and refugees. The churches chose to privately sponsor a larger family because together they had the necessary resources.

The churches, as a private sponsor, will financially support the family for 12 months, a cost expected to be approximately $70,000.

Along with financial support, the churches will help the family with adapting to their new lives in Canada, English language skills and search for employment, said Mary-Sue Atkinson of St. David’s United Church.

Atkinson explained that this is reunification sponsorship: the father of the family has a brother who has lived in the Lower Mainland for years and has children born in Canada.

To help cover the cost of sponsoring the families, the churches have planned several upcoming fundraisers.

A “Syrian Sunday” was held Nov. 15 at North Lonsdale United Church and a second will take place Nov. 29. All donations from church services on these dates will go towards supporting the refugee family.

Donations for the family can be made at any of the seven United churches through their websites or by calling. A tax receipt will be issued for all donations more than $25.

Atkinson explained that under current regulations, refugee families must repay the Canadian government for transportation to Canada, medical fees and application fees up to a maximum loan amount of $10,000. The family is charged interest on the loan and the churches want to eliminate it for the family.

“We’re really excited. It’s a really positive project. It’s wonderful to be working with all the churches,” said Atkinson about the project.

The North Shore Immigrant Inclusion Partnership and the West Vancouver United Church are hosting a special presentation on the Syrian Refugee Crisis on Monday, Nov. 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the West Vancouver United Church Sanctuary, 2062 Esquimalt Ave. Registration is encouraged. For more information or to register, visit nsiip.ca.

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